Monthly Archives: March 2019

Sailors Sleeping Around a Gun Postcard

This week we have an Edwardian picture card of Royal Navy sailors sleeping around a warships gun:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (2)This is clearly a posed photograph, but does depict a common event when action was expected, by sleeping next to the gun, a crew could be on hand to fire the weapon within seconds if an enemy ship came into sight.

The gun itself seems to be a small quick firing model, mounted on the waist of the warship:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (4) - CopyThis suggests it is the secondary armament of the ship and was of the light type of weaponry designed to protect a ship from attack by small, fast craft such as torpedo boats. These weapons were designed to fire rapidly and blow these lightly armed attack vessels out of the water before they came close enough to launch torpedoes that could damage or sink the larger ship.

The men are depicted sleeping on the deck covered simply in a blanket each to protect them from the chill of the night:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (3) - CopyAnother sailor stands next to the gun awake and alert. It seems likely that he is representing the member of the gun crew who would remain awake in order to rouse his shipmates if needed:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (5) - CopyA selection of shells sits on the deck next to the gun:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (2) - CopyAgain these seem to be posed, in reality they would be safely stowed in a ready use locker, far safer than being loose to roll around the deck or be detonated by enemy fire.

Although obviously posed, this is a fascinating and atmospheric image, with a great view of the working parts of the quick firing gun’s breach and elevating gear.

Rest Centre Zuckerman Helmet

Rest centres were locations set up by local authorities to process those made homeless by bombing. These centres were normally in school or church halls and offered short term accommodation for those bombed out of their homes, as well as food and access to services to allow alternative housing to be provided, new ration and identity papers to be issued and any other advice and support people might need. These centres were manned by a mix of local authority employees and volunteers, the WVS having a major role to play in providing hot tea and food as well as distributing aid. The workers at these centres were lightly equipped, but some at least were issued with steel helmets to protect them as they went about their duties. Tonight we have a wonderful example of a Zuckerman helmet marked up to a rest centre worker:imageThis helmet is in the standard light grey paint, put a dark green panel has been painted on the front with the words ‘Rest Centre’ neatly painted on this:imageThe Zuckerman helmet was specially developed for civilian use and whilst not offering the ballistic protection of a military helmet, it was ideal for protection during air raids. Examples were issued by local authorities and it was also available for purchase by civilians for a few shillings.

The design was officially called the ‘civilian protective helmet’ and was pressed from manganese or mild steel in two shell sizes, medium and large. This example is a medium, as indicated by the ‘M’ stamped into the underside of the shell:imageThe other stamp on the underside of the rim indicates that it was made by Rubery Owen Company Ltd of Leeds in 1941:imageThe underside of the helmet shows the liner and the loops for a chin strap:imageChin straps were not supplied with these helmets, but users were advised that they could add their own and examples turn up with a wide variety of different chin straps, some as sophisticated as the standard army ones, others just a piece of ribbon.

The liner itself is made of leather with a tape crown, this ensures that there is a large gap between the top of the liner and the helmet shell itself offering more protection from falling debris. Sadly, despite the excellent condition of the shell, the liner in this helmet has perished considerably over the last eighty years:imageThe helmets were distributed with the liner unattached and an instruction sheet advising users how to set their helmet up for use:

MINISTRY OF HOME SECURITY

THE CIVILIAN PROTECTIVE HELMET

INSTRUCTIONS FOR ASSEMBLY AND FITTING

The Civilian Protective Helmet is issued unassembled in three parts – body, lining, and lace.

The steel body is in two sizes and the liner is in six sizes – i.e. three sizes to each size of body, as follows –

The medium body (stamped M) takes linings of 6 and a half, 6 and three quarters and 7.

The large body (stamped L) takes linings of 7 and a quarter, 7 and a half, and 7 and three quarters.

Fig 1 shows the general shape of the helmet. Although the body is symmetrical in shape the line of lacing holes is sloped so that when the lining is assembled to the body the helmet has a front and a back. The back comes down lower to protect the back of the head.

The letters L and M stamped under the rim at the back indicates the size of the helmet body.

How to assemble the Helmet.

(i) Take a lining of the required size and a body of the size to fit the lining – see above. (NB – It is essential that the right size of body be used with each lining size.) It does not matter which part of the lining becomes the front or back; but it is usual to assemble it so that the join in the headband is at the back.

(ii) There are eight pairs of lacing holes in the steel body, corresponding with the eight loops on the lining (A ‘pair’ of holes means two holes close together – about 1 inch apart. There is a space of about 2 inches between two pairs.) A loop should be placed behind and between the two holes which form one pair, and the lace threaded alternately through the lacing holes in the body and the loops on the lining as show in Fig. 2.

When the lacing is finished lace should be visible outside the body of the helmet between each pair of holes, and should be invisible between the two holes which form a pair (see Fig. 1).

(iii) When the lacing has been completed, draw the lace tight and tie it firmly in a bow. It will be most satisfactory to form the tie inside the helmet (ie alongside one of the loops in the lining) and at the back, where loose ends can be tucked away, and not outside the helmet, where the tie will be more liable to come undone.

The lacing can be done with any strong piece of cord or lace of the right thickness if the lace originally provided gets broken.

How to fit the Helmet.

The wearer of the helmet should see that it fits well. The leather band of the lining should fit as closely as possible around the head without being too tight. If it is too loose and the next size smaller is too tight, the lining should be padded with layers of paper or other material inside the leather band.

When the fit around the head has been made right, the helmet should be worn to see whether it comes down far enough, or too far, on the head. This can be adjusted by lengthening or shortening the piece of cord which is threaded through the webbing band at the crown of the head. The brim at the front should be about level with the eyebrows when the helmet is worn in a comfortable position on the head. (Note – the cord must not be loosened so much that the head nearly comes in contact with the steel body. People with high-domed heads may find it advisable to wear the helmet above eyebrow level.)

Chinstrap or Carrrying Loops

No chinstrap is provided because it is not likely to be necessary except in rare circumstances. Nevertheless lugs are provided inside the helmet on either side through which a piece of tape can be threaded if desired, to form either a strap (to be worn either under the chin or at the back of the head) or a carrying loop.

5.56mm Blank Rounds

When the. 5.56mm round was introduced into British Army service for use with the new SA80 rifle there was of course a blank round introduced alongside it. Initially the British Army used the L1A1 blank which was boxer primed and had a load of 0.5 gr as of NPP30 double-based propellant. This came into service in 1985 but was replaced by the L1A2 blank in 1992 which had 0.48 grams of nitro-cellulose single-base propellant. Around the turn of the 21st century the specifications changed again and the British Army now uses L18A1 blank ammunition, although I have been unable to find out exact specifications for this ammunition. The rounds themselves are made of brass, with. The same overall length as a live round:imageThe heads of each round are crimped, with a waterproofing agent to seal the end of the round from moisture entering:imageThe head stamp of the round indicates it was made by Radway Green in 2011 and is the L18A1 round:imageThese rounds were issued in cardboard boxes, each holding twenty rounds. These boxes were broken open and magazines loaded from these. The SA80 has specialist blank magazines that only work with blank ammunition and cannot take ball rounds for safety purposes. In order to load it was typical to empty the rounds out into a safe receptacle such as a helmet or beret so they didn’t get lost or dirty before the magazine was filled.

WW1 Fundraising Dog Coat

The British have long been renowned for willing supporting charities large and small and their love of animals, especially dogs. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries these two loves came together with the extensive use of dogs to raise money for various good causes. There were several quite famous dogs who walked around large railway stations with collection boxes on their backs raising money for welfare charities (indeed one can be seen on display, stuffed, in the National Railway Museum in York). It was therefore no surprise that during World War One dogs were often used to raise money for service charities and tonight we are looking at an example of a dog coat made during World War One for these fundraising activities.imageThe coat is clearly handmade, but of excellent manufacture. It is shaped to fit a large dog such as an Alsatian or Labrador, with straps to go around the chest, stomach and rump of the animal, all sewn to the reverse of the coat:imageAn iron buckle is fitted to one of each pair of straps, wrapped in red thread to make it more decorative:imageIt is the decoration on the coat however which is particularly interesting and which helps to date the coat to World War One. Four red crosses are sewn on, suggesting that it was this charity the dog was raising money for:imageEmbroidered on the front corners of the coat are the crossed flags of France and Zsarist Russsia:imageThis alone dates the coat to World War One. The opposite side has the British and Belgian flags:imageEach of these pairs of flags is accompanied with red white and blue rosettes, picking up the colours of Russia, France and Great Britain. Belgium is represented by a single black, orange and red rosette at the rear of the coat:imageOn September 16th 1914 the Daily Mail reported:

Two very successful collectors for the Red Cross Fund are the pair of pedigree greyhounds, Nell and Finn, which appear on the stage of the Garrick Theatre every evening in Mr Arthur Bourchier’s “Bluff King Hal.” The dogs appear outside the theatre every evening before the performance and help to the collection of money which goes to the purchase of materials that are made up by the ladies of the company for the wounded soldiers

Royal Navy Wet Weather Jacket Liner

The Royal Navy’s foul weather jackets are excellent at keeping rain and wind out, but are not particularly warm, being just a single layer of Gore-Tex. There were two designs of jacket, one with reflective patches on the sleeves and one without. The plain jacket included a quilted liner that could be worn with the jacket to help keep the wearer warm in colder conditions:J50-RN-GoreTex-Jackets-no-hood-open2_2048x2048The design of this jacket liner is very reminiscent of the 1970s and 1980s British Army quilted smock liners, but in dark blue rather than olive green. The liner is a sleeveless design:imageThe quilting is in a diamond pattern, with a cotton tape edging around all the seams:imageThe liner has a zip up the front:imageThis allows the liner to be zipped into the wet weather jacket to hold it secure:J50-RN-GoreTex-Jackets-no-hood-liner_2048x2048And a label is sewn into the rear with sizing, NSN number and care instructions:imageThe jackets these liners were worn now seem to have been dropped by the Navy in favour of one universal pattern with the reflective patches and a hood. The new jackets do not seem to have the facility to add a quilted liner and these now seem to be obsolete.

YMCA Active Service Postcard

The YMCA supported British and Allied troops in both World Wars, running canteens and hostels, offering reading rooms and leisure space to soldiers and providing stationery to men to enable them to write home. We have previously looked at a piece of YMCA notepaper here and tonight we have an Active Service postcard that would have been. Given out to soldiers in the field to write home with:SKM_C30819021912050 - Copy (3)It is hard to date this item as there is no indication as to whether it is First or Second World War, however the design of the YMCA logo is very simple:SKM_C30819021912050 - Copy (3) - CopyThis suggests to me that this postcard is later rather than earlier as many of the First World War designs are far more elaborate than this. The patron of the Military Camp Department is listed as the Duke of Connaught:SKM_C30819021912050 - Copy (4) - CopyAgain this is not very helpful at dating the card as the Duke remained heavily involved with the YMCA from the early years of the twentieth century until his death in 1942.

The postcard itself has space for the sender to indicate who he is sending it to, along with his own number, regiment and where he was stationed:SKM_C30819021912050 - Copy (5) - CopyThe message was then written on the rear and could be quickly posted off back to friends and family.

Irene Stuart worked in the YMCA in Aberdeen during the war and remembers:

When I’d finished my schooling at seventeen and half, I went to work in the YMCA Office. We had to see to all the services when they came to use the facilities such as showers, writing paper for their letters home, and I got the job of sewing on stripes etc. when they got promoted while away from home. 

I was sometimes required to make up sandwiches when the sailors at navigation college had to go away on day exercise. In the evenings I served in the canteen.

I thoroughly enjoyed it all and met so many people.

L4 Spare Parts Wallet

The L4, like the Bren before it, had a dedicated spare parts wallet containing items that were used to clean the LMG and make simple field repairs to keep the weapon in action. The wallet was very similar to its predecessor, but with different pockets and contents to reflect the different needs of the L4. The wallet was made of webbing, pre-dyed green:imageThe wallet rolls up and is secured with two staples and tabs:imageA number of pockets are inside the wallet to hold the various contents:imageInside the wallet are a number of different accessories:L4 Spares WalletLike the earlier Bren wallet, there is a pocket for the oil bottle:imageAn un-flapped one for the pull-through:imageOne pocket for the takedown tool:imageAnd one for the spare parts tin:imageThe spare parts tin is now made of plastic rather than metal. The big change from the earlier design however, is that there is a pocket to carry the multi-piece cleaning rod:imageThe L4 had a chromed barrel so no spare was carried and the spare barrel bag often ditched in favour of just the spares wallet, hence the need for a multi piece cleaning rod in the spares wallet to allow it to be maintained with just the smaller wallet.

The 1978 army pamphlet on the L4 lists the contents as:

Spare parts wallet

Top left – Combination tool

Centre – Oil can containing rifle oil

Top right – Pull through, flannelette and tube of graphite grease (if carried)

Bottom – Spare parts tin

Inside flap – Cleaning rod in two sections for cleaning the barrel and chamber.

Spare parts tin. This contains the following items:

Extractor, extractor stay and extractor spring.

Firing pin spring

Clearing plug

In addition the following SLR spare parts may also be carried in the spare parts tin:

Extractor, extractor spring and extractor plunger

Firing pin

Gas plug